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La Cucina Genuina

Anne Robichaud

The cooking of Italy is as varied as the number of dialects - hundreds of variations on the "goodness theme" - but all of them centered on the good and simple flavors of la cucina genuina. "Genuine cuisine" uses fresh ingredients, grown regionally and transformed simply without sophistication in either methods or implements used. Often called in Italy also la cucina povera because as Signor Riccardi, noted Assisi antiquarian just told me over coffee, "There are no two ways about it: the best cooking derives from that of the poor people who could only cook using what they grew on their small plots of land."

When my husband Pino and I moved here to Umbria to farm in the 1970's, we both set out to learn all that we could about rural life from our farm neighbors. They taught us how to raise a variety of animals - guinea fowl, geese, chickens, ducks, rabbits, pigs, sheep, goats - and how to best serve them at table! Every winter, one of the pigs was transformed into prosciutto, capocollo, sausages, pancetta, and salami.

Pino slaughtered our fowl and I plunged them into the copper cauldron of boiling water ready and waiting in the fireplace. Immediately in and out, fast enough that the birds did not cook. Then fingers flew as I plucked the feathers. Turkeys, chickens and guinea fowl were a "quick pluck". Geese and ducks took longer due to all that soft down near the skin. Pino killed the rabbits and we skinned them together. It was up to me to clean all the animals, cooking the interiors as well as the meats. My farm woman neighbors were my teachers: roast goose basted in olive oil, rosemary and sage, rabbit alla cacciatora, the Umbrian way (no tomatoes but a luscious blending of herbs, wines, lemon juice) and guinea fowl salmi (capers and olives flavor a most delicate gravy).

Farm neighbor Chiarina taught me how to make pasta (from the flour milled from our wheat) and gnocchi with our potatoes. We foraged together for the wild asparagus to use in a frittata or risotto. From Chiarina, I also learned how to conserve the garden's vegetables sott'olio, how to dry the figs and bottle fruit juices. With farm neighbor, Mandina, I gathered wild greens for salads and hunted mushrooms in our woods. Afterwards, she threw out the poison ones and showed me how to preserve the good ones sott'olio (under oil).

Our farm neighbors no longer live in the poverty of years gone by, but their cooking - and ours - remains la cucina genuina.

Additional Resources:

Read more of Anne's articles

Travel Recipes for Italy

Italian Food and Cooking

Anne Robichaud lives near Assisi and gives lectures and tours. www.annesitaly.com

© Anne Robichaud, 2009. Do not republish without permission.

This essay was first published on Anne's website www.annesitaly.com. Edited by Slow Travel.

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